WITH incredible warmth and fun, the Princess of Wales gave her princes the best of childhoods.
Arms outstretched, with a huge smile on her face, Princess Diana was clearly desperate to see Princes William and Harry on her return from royal engagements in Canada in 1991. It was the picture that said a thousand words about her as a mother.
As the suited and booted boys waited patiently on the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia, the mother-of-two practically ran up the steps to see a then 10-year-old William and Harry, eight. Although Prince Charles hadn’t seen his children for a month either, and gave them both a hearty cuddle, it was Diana who enveloped them both in the hugs that were caught on camera.
As the 20th anniversary of the princess’s tragic death in a Paris car crash fast approaches, her sons have revealed the woman behind the public persona. In a landmark documentary for ITV last month, they spoke movingly of how their beloved Mummy would “smother” them with love.
Harry said: “You know, and of course as a son I would say this, she was, the best mum in the world.”
Her warm embraces – as that iconic photograph showed – were legendary. “She would just engulf you and squeeze you as tight as possible,” said Harry. “And being as short as I was then, there was no escape, you were there and you were there for as long as she wanted to hold you.
Even talking about it now I can feel the hugs that she used to give us and I miss that, I miss that feeling, I miss that part of a family, I miss having that mother to be able to give you those hugs and give you that compassion that I think everybody needs.”
William added: “She was extremely good at showing her love. She was extremely good at showing what we meant to her and what feelings meant and how important it was to feel.” Diana proved to them that it was OK to express emotion.
Praising their “incredibly funny” and “mischievous” mother’s “naughtiness” and sense of humour, the princes spoke movingly of how she tried to make their upbringing as “normal” as possible.
They described how she would take them for a burger, sneak them into a cinema to watch a movie and drive through country lanes in her convertible BMW listening to Enya at full volume.
Harry said: “Behind closed doors she was a very loving, caring mother and an incredibly funny person. She made the decision that no matter what, despite all the difficulties of growing up in that limelight and on that royal stage, she was going to ensure that both of us had as normal a life as possible. She brought a breath of fresh air to everything she did.”
William added: “She was very informal and really enjoyed the laughter and the fun.”
Princes William and Harry also revealed how she used to smuggle sweets into their socks when they were boarding at Eton and sent them “the rudest cards you could imagine”. Harry said: “One of her mottos to me was: ‘You can be as naughty as you want, just don’t get caught.’ Our mother was a total kid through and through.”
William recalled a memory when his mother invited supermodels Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell to Kensington Palace when he was a “12 or 13-year-old boy who had posters of them on his wall”.
“I went bright red and didn’t quite know what to say and sort of fumbled, and I think I pretty much fell down the stairs on the way up,” he said. It later emerged that he had mixed up his supermodels and it was actually Claudia Schiffer who took part in the prank, not Cindy Crawford.
William added that he constantly reminds his children Prince George and Princess
Charlotte about “Granny Diana” when he puts them to bed, joking that she would have been a “nightmare grandmother”.
“She’d come in probably at bath time, cause an amazing amount of scene – bubbles everywhere, bathwater all over the place – and then leave,” he laughed.
Another insight into the princess as a parent was how the fashion icon would dress her sons. Not that we would have expected to see them in trainers and hoodies.
“I genuinely think that she got satisfaction out of dressing myself and William up in the most bizarre outfits,” joked Harry. “Normally matching. It was weird shorts and little sort of shiny shoes. Looking back at the photos it just makes me laugh. I just think how could you do that to us? And then funnily enough, we got to the age when William would turn round and go:
‘Oh, this is ridiculous, you know, I’m the older brother. Why do I have to be dressed the same as him?’ And I’m sort of sitting there going: ‘Hang on a second. If you’re going to dress differently I’m not going to be the only person dressed like this – this is just ridiculous.’
So I like to think that she had great fun in dressing us up. I sure as hell am going to dress my kids up the same way.”
It’s interesting to see William and Catherine also favour very traditional clothes for Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
Although such lighthearted moments are remembered fondly, the princes must have also been aware of their mother’s fear she may lose custody of them after she separated from Prince Charles in 1992. According to her close
friend Dr James Colthurst, who had known the princess since she was 17, she lived in fear of such an eventuality.
He told a Channel 4 documentary: “Her character was being written down – as she saw it, a campaign to sideline her and remove her from the boys.” And the fact that William is the heir to the throne, it was always more likely he would remain very much in the royal household.
“That was her worry,” Dr Colhurst continued, “that she was going to lose the boys. Overriding, above everything else, that was the concern – and that they were using a character run-down as a means of making that happen, an understandable next step.”
Throughout the so-called War of the Waleses, William and Harry remained Diana’s number one priority, according to another close confidante.
Harry Herbert, who had also known Diana since she was a teenager, said: “I remember going to see Diana in Kensington Palace when things weren’t particularly easy in her married life. She was very emotional.
And, suddenly, these two boys came thundering round the corner in their dressing gowns, this was before bedtime and just watching her face light up, going from a sad chat to suddenly ‘boof!’ I’ll never forget that moment, and them, you know, crawling all over her and things flying everywhere. And through all the difficulty of other stuff at that time, you could see the most important thing in her life were her boys.”
Little wonder then, that William and Harry have fought so hard to keep Diana’s legacy alive. As William told journalists last month: “I think Harry and I feel very strongly that we want to celebrate her life and this is a tribute from her sons to her.
“We want her legacy to live on in our work and we feel this is an appropriate way of doing that, to remind not only the people who knew her but also, we have to remember that this is 20 years ago now since she died and there are people who don’t even know about her.”
Describing the documentary-making experience as “cathartic”, he added: “It’s been at first quite daunting, opening up so much to camera. But going through this process has been quite healing as well, talking. Actually, it’s been wonderfully refreshing bringing up memories and photographs and things of her and being able to share her and talk about her in a way that sometimes is quite difficult.”
With Harry having taken up some of the causes closest to Diana’s heart, like AIDS and HIV awareness, and the anti-landmine campaign, and William focused on issues like homelessness and childhood cancer, her charitable legacy will always live on through her sons – along with her warm parenting style. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made no secret of their desire to give George and Charlotte as normal an upbringing as possible, and there is no doubt Diana has influenced this approach.
Paying her the best compliment a son ever could, William said: “I want to make as much time and effort with Charlotte and George as I can, because I realise that these early years particularly are crucial for children having seen what she did for us.”